If you thought the romantic triangle at the center of The Twilight Saga was complicated, then you haven’t yet experienced the passions at the center of Stephenie Meyer’s other novel, The Host, also a feature film arriving in theaters on March 29, 2013.
Set on an Earth that has been overrun by body-snatching aliens called “souls,” the story follows Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), one of the last humans left on the planet, after her body has been inhabited by the well-traveled soul known as Wanderer (or Wanda, for short). Melanie’s strong-willed consciousness cajoles Wanda into the American desert to find Melanie’s uncle Jeb (William Hurt), her brother Jamie (Chandler Canterbury), and her boyfriend Jared (Max Irons). But once Wanda comes upon this ragtag band hiding out in a network of caves, she begins to develop feelings herself for another human, Ian O’Shea (Jake Abel, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, I Am Number Four, The Lovely Bones). So, to recap: Jared loves Melanie, whose body is controlled by Wanda, who is in love with Ian.
In this exclusive first look at Ian’s character in The Host, Abel talks about what he calls the “love box” between the four characters, his thoughts on Ian’s progressive attitude towards the souls, and what it was like working with Meyer and the film’s writer-director, Andrew Niccol (Gattica, In Time). Check it out below!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So tell me about Ian.
JAKE ABEL: Ian’s one of the last remaining humans, part of the human resistance that’s trying to survive this alien invasion. He and his brother escaped being captured together and found Jeb’s cave out in the desert, and that’s pretty much where he’s resided ever since. He’s been struggling to survive along with the rest of the people in our colony. When Wanda comes, there’s the initial mistrust and fear. But through her actions, she slowly starts to teach us things that we weren’t aware of, and because of that my feelings for her start to change.
It’s kind of like a love quadrangle.
Yeah, a love box [laughing], between my feelings for Wanda, the alien inside the body, and Jared’s feelings for Melanie, the human who he’s known, whom Ian has never known. Ian has only known this alien.
What is that like to play? I know that’s tricky for Saoirse, but you’re dealing with essentially two different characters.
I was really lucky. It was much easier for me than for Max and Saoirse, because my scenes with Saoirse were mostly with her as Wanda. So the physicality we created for both of us was just that: For me, that entity was just Wanda. Andrew Niccol and I [discussed] that Ian was much more evolved than most people in the cave, second to Jeb. His biggest muscles were his heart and his brain. He’s able to understand that yes, Jared may love the human, but he hates the alien. [Ian] has grown to understand [the alien], and through understanding, grown to love her.
When you signed on to the film, were you the kind of actor who, if you hadn’t read the book, you devoured it, or did you want to stay away from it so you built your own character?
This is my fourth or fifth film that’s been an adaptation of a book, and I hate to admit it, but this is the first one I’d read before filming the movie. Usually I kind of keep the script [as] the bible and base everything off of that. But I think Stephenie probably had a big hand in Andrew’s adaptation of her book. I knew that they were going to try to keep as close as possible and I knew the book would give me much more backstory — just because of the capacity a book can hold — than the script could give me. So I did just crash through the book in a few days. I learned some stuff, and then some stuff changed in the movie, and it all came together, and I was really happy with what we came up with for Ian.
I know Stephenie Meyer was on the set a fair amount. What was that like, knowing that you were interpreting something that had lived in her head for so long?
The thing about Stephenie is that she’s highly collaborative. If you have ideas — and we had ideas about the sequels [to the book] — she was like, “Tell me! Tell me!” There were a couple of times I was like, “How ’bout this?” And she was like, “Well, I’ll think about it.” And that’s always so relieving as an actor, because we all want to bring something to the table, and we all understand that the film we’re making is the writer’s baby. There’s parts of you that want to honor their vision. There’s parts of you that have your own vision. And she welcomes that process with open arms. I got her blessing early on with what I was wanting to do with him, and because of that I was able to not think about it so much. She’s kind of the ghost on set anyway. Unless you go find her and have a conversation, she’s not coming up to you to give you notes or change your performance. She’s really, really great about that.
What was it like working with Andrew Niccol?
Working with Andrew was a dream come true. He and I had been wanting to work together for a little bit. I wanted to do one of his previous films, and it just didn’t work out, so we just got lucky that this one came up, and we knew we really wanted to do it together. I’ve been a fan of his since Truman Show [which Niccol wrote] and Gattaca. Again, he’s highly collaborative. I had two weeks’ rehearsal with him. He separates himself as Andrew the writer and Andrew the director better than anyone I’ve ever seen. He talks about Andrew the writer as if he were another separate entity besides him, which left us free to pitch ideas, and nothing’s ever taken personal. He backed up our ideas and made them into the script.